IT’S an incredible 11 years since Yeovil Youth Theatre burst onto the scene with an unforgettable production of Les Miserables at The Gateway, and during the intervening years the company has introduced many young performers in a challenging variety of roles.
This year’s show, at the Octagon Theatre last week, was Annie, a perennial favourite of youth theatres but a first for YYT. Many of the performers who have been in Oliver, We Will Rock You, High School Musical, West Side Story, Footloose, Our House, Billy Elliot, Cats, Grease and The Adams Family have moved on to drama school and university, and this year’s company has the much-younger-than-usual average age of 14.
This made Annie a perfect choice, and co-directed and choreographed by Alan and Judy Lye-Forster with Kathryn Stevens in charge of the band, it was another spectacular success for the company.
The musical is based on the popular American cartoon strip Little Orphan Annie, created by Harold Gray and drawn by him from 1924 to 1968. It’s the sort of rags to riches tale that the can-do Americans love to this day, and its transfer to the stage has been equally in demand by audiences.
It takes Annie’s story from her unhappy days as an 11-year-old in a New York orphanage to her adoption by a multi-billionaire and her meeting with President Franklin D Roosevelt. The real misery of the orphanage – in which Annie waits in vain for the return of her parents while suffering the constant abuse of the drunken warden Miss Hannigan – can be lost in the feel-good-ness of the musical, but the YYT production makes no concessions.
To get some of the jokes you need a smattering of history, which seemed to be totally lacking in the Octagon Saturday matinee audience, and the reality of the Hooverville scene was lost, but it gave a nice opportunity for the introduction of Dolly McDoodle as Sandy the dog.
The central character is, of course, Annie herself, and performed by rising star Jessamy Bowditch she grabs the hearts of the audience as she does of Oliver Warbucks.
Professional actor Paul Nicholas Dyke, whose parents Trudy and Nick co-founded the company, made a welcome return to the Yeovil stage to play “Daddy” Warbucks, not the usual aged bald and overbearing figure but a sympathetic, charismatic and wholly convincing man who has wasted his life in the pursuit of money and only realises when he meets Annie that all he needs is love.
There was real chemistry between him and his secretary Grace Farrell (Lois Froude) and scenes in his Fifth Avenue mansion were a highlight.
Olivia MacGregor was a nasty scheming and lazy Miss Hannigan, with Sam Hardwill as her brother Rooster and Joanna Reay as his moll, Lily.
And the other “senior” cast member, Ian Wickens, was a likeable President Roosevelt.
The excellent band, strong on reeds and brass, brought out the poignancy of numbers like Maybe and the jazzy drive of Hard Knock Life and You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile.
This was another triumph for the company, whose organisers must be delighted that such a talented new cohort of young performers is waiting in the wings for the major roles.